Luke 12:1 – “Be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees…”
Luke 12:15 – “Watch out! Be on guard against all kinds of greed…”
Luke 12:40 – “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
Don’t Miss the Warning
Whether Jesus was talking about the false teachings and practices of religious leaders, temptation and sin in our own lives, or the consummation of all things at his return, he commands us to be on guard, watch out, and be ready.
This theme of preparation appears and reappears throughout much of Jesus’ teachings. Repetition for rabbis in the first century was a teaching tool or technique to ensure a vital point was made and received, so we do well to pay careful attention here. It would be akin to a school teacher in our day writing a point on a chalkboard and saying, “If I’m taking the time to write this out, you can bet it will appear on your exam.” We ignore such warnings to our peril.
What is important to understand about our Lord’s words is the call on our part for disciplined intentionality. For you cannot casually or lazily “be on guard,” “watch out,” or “be ready.” Many of us could cite analogies from the world of sports or the military to show just how essential such intense, intentional, and disciplined preparation is. Without it, the game is lost, the city taken, the soul forfeited.
The Accumulation of Unguardedness
If I let my guard down today, it is true that Jesus may not return… this day. But that’s not the main point Jesus is making here. Instead, we must consider what the accumulation of days with a lowered guard would do to a person. In such a scenario, the spiritual atrophy that would set in could prove catastrophic to an individual. The dominion of the world, the flesh, and the devil would enlarge in that person’s life with detrimental results.
In his book, Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan paints a vivid picture of this unguardedness in his characters, Simple, Sloth, and Presumption. All three had fallen asleep on their way to the Celestial City and had become shackled. When they were offered freedom from their bondage to continue their journey and avoid being devoured by the enemy, they responded by declaring they saw no danger and needed just a little more sleep.
How tragic for a person to never awaken from his slumber and thus become an occupied territory unaware. Without a work of divine grace, the battle is lost, and perhaps even the war.
We do well to heed our Master’s words today – to be on guard continually, always be ready, and constantly watch out. For our foes are nearer to us and subtler that we can imagine. Only an intentional and disciplined watchman on the high wall of the soul’s citadel can and will be properly prepared.
Let us, therefore, be ready. For I can think of nothing worse than to fall in battle, knowing I could have easily seen the attack coming and been ready for it, if only I had listened to and obeyed my King.
What are two or three reasons you have “fallen asleep on watch” in your faith? What sorts of images do the names of John Bunyan’s characters bring to your mind? The Lord has graciously given us means by which we may stay on guard, ready, and watchful. Which ones do you practice regularly? What are some things you can start doing today to remain “intentionally disciplined” on your walk to the Celestial City? Share your ideas with a friend and ask for prayer.
Grace and Truth,
John 8:23-24, 31-32 - But [Jesus] continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.  I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.”
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
To the Point
Jesus rarely, if ever, beat around the bush. Time was precious to him, so he usually cut straight to the chase. He knew how to get the attention of his hearers. In our Scripture, Jesus shares with those to whom he is speaking several important facts about them and the world in which they lived.
We Have to Show Our Pearly Whites
True, biblical, and God-glorifying faith in Christ has teeth to it. It’s got a practicality that demands to be noticed. It’s unlikely the early church was so heavily persecuted and martyred simply because they intellectually accepted particular truth-claims about Jesus and then told others they needed to do the same to go to heaven.
Instead, because they believed Jesus was who he claimed to be and thus loved and followed him, they therefore obeyed him. Put another way: They put their faith into practice.
As their faith in Christ permeated every sphere of their lives they began to be noticed by the worldlings around them. It was this authentic non-conformity to the world around them that led to their persecution. They refused to be “squeezed into the mold” of this world.
The Shape of Discipleship
If we would be people of the truth, we must be Christ’s disciples. If we would be his disciples, we must believe in him, trust him, and obey him. Nothing less is worthy of the One who is the true Lord and King of the universe, which includes this world.
The “Pretenders to the Throne” notwithstanding, (their reign, after all, is temporary), our allegiance must be to Christ alone. And that allegiance has a shape to it. It is not mere intellectual ascent of a few doctrinal propositions (though it includes that). It is not simply a warm-fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach. It is far more. Allegiance to Christ is incarnational. It has skin on it. It has teeth to it. If we would be his, we must submit to his Lordship – his absolute authority – by obeying him in every sphere of our lives. Only then can we rightly claim to be his disciples.
In what areas of your life is it hardest to live faithfully as a Christian? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can to equip yourself to more faithfully “hold to” Jesus’ teachings in every sphere of your life? What do you think such faithfulness looks like? Take a minute to pray right now and then share your ideas with a friend who will also pray for you and hold you accountable.
Grace and Truth,
Exodus 4:11-12 – The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
Luke 12:11-12 – “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say,  for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”
In Exodus 4, God called Moses to be his mouthpiece. Moses would represent God to both the Egyptians as well as the Israelites. Moses would speak on God’s behalf and utter the very message God told him to pass on. Some believe that, when Moses first declined God's offer, he was practicing false humility, common in his day. Others believe he wasn't very eloquent and was simply scared. Who knows? Whatever the reason, it seems plausible he may have been a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of speaking to Pharaoh. Who wouldn’t?
I’ve been there. Such fear comes from relying too much upon myself and not enough on God. God says as much with these words,
“Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (verse 11)
God’s the sovereign One in the equation, not me. Our Lord made a similar point in Luke 12 when he told his disciples they would be persecuted for following him. How would they respond when they were caught and tried by the authorities? How would they reply to the charges? Just think of the pressure and stress. Would fear overcome them? Or would they find the right words at the right moment?
Jesus told them not to worry about such things. He said,
“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, (verse 11)
Our Default Excuse
The number of people who have told me they do not share their faith because they are “afraid they won’t know what to say” is higher than I can count. How often have we remained silent when we could and should have lovingly confronted a friend or family member for a particular sin in their lives? How many times have we avoided offering counsel to someone making a major life-decision because the pressure was simply too great? We’re afraid we’ll get tongue-tied for Jesus.
Those, and other examples, are often the result of leaning too heavily upon our own abilities (or fearing our inabilities) rather than trusting God and his Spirit to speak through us. But notice the reasons both
God the Father in Exodus and Jesus in Luke’s Gospel give for placing our trust in God:
Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (verse12)
for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (verse 12)
Trust God and Speak
You see, God never requires anything from us for which he does not also equip us. God wants us to witness to unbelievers as well as to minister to fellow believers. We are his hands and feet. More than that, we are his voice. We are not called to share our own opinions, however, but his words and counsel. Of course, as a seminary professor once reminded me, God seldom fills empty heads. If we aren’t listening to God through prayer and the study of his Word, then it is indeed doubtful we will have much to offer anyone.
And yet, as we dig into his Word and meditate upon what he has revealed to us, we will hear not only what he is saying to us, but also what he wants us to share with others. And that’s more than worth our effort.
Have you ever frozen in fear of what to say to someone who asked you why you are a Christian? Or have you not known how to counsel a friend who asked you for advice concerning a tough life-situation? Did either of those experiences make you more or less likely to “speak for God” when future opportunities presented themselves? Do you think you were leaning too heavily upon yourself? Your abilities? What are three things you can start doing today to prepare yourself to communicate God’s truth to another person when the next opportunity presents itself?
Grace and Truth,
Psalm 119:13-16 – With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth.  I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.
Matthew 22:29 – Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.
A Good Reason or Two to Read Scripture
I wonder if much of our aimless spiritual wandering isn’t self-inflicted. We are often content to grope in the dark when pure and undefiled light is offered us. This light I speak of penetrates our deepest being (Heb. 4:12), judges our thoughts and attitudes (Heb. 4:12), makes us wise for salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), is breathed out by God himself (2 Tim. 3:16), is truth (John 17:17), is the means by which we are sanctified (John 17:17), is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16), thoroughly equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17), works as a mirror to show us our truest selves (James 1:23-25), endures forever (1 Peter 1:23-25), cannot be broken (John 10:35), counsels us in every sphere of our lives (Ps. 119:24), will not return to God empty but will achieve the purpose for which he sent it (Isaiah 55:11). As the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17), it is our only offensive weapon in our war with the world, the flesh, and the devil.
And so, if all of this is true (and it surely is, and more), why are we not plumbing its depths, mining its riches, and saturating ourselves in its mind-renewing, life-transforming power every available opportunity?
Psalm 119 gives us a beautiful model of what a “piety of the Word” should look like in our lives. All through the Psalm we find a variety of synonyms for God’s Word, such as decree, statute, law, ordinance, precept, as well as word. Sometimes these words are used to communicate God’s “directives for our lives” and other times a word represents “his promises.” The first “calls us to obedience while the other calls us to faith – the two elements of godliness” (NIV Study Bible notes).
Each of today’s verses contain enough material for its own sermon. That would require more time and space than is presently available. But just dream with me for a moment…
Can you imagine a person, home, church, small group, or community that regularly recounts the law of God, rejoices in following his statutes as one rejoices in great riches, that meditates day and night on God’s precepts and considers his ways for every thought, word, or deed? Can you conceive of such an individual or community that delights in God’s decrees and will not neglect his word at any time for any reason? What would such a person or church or small group look like? What would be their impact for the world in which they live? According to Matthew 22:29, Jesus says there would be great power that would attend such commitment, passion, and saturation. Can you picture the reformation and revival that would break out at God’s behest?
Humanly speaking, it all starts with one – one person who will saturate himself or herself in God’s Word, and who, like Ezra, will study it, live it, and teach it to others.
Are you such a person? Imagine what might happen if you were! What’s stopping you? Why not take God at his Word – trust his Word – saturate yourself in his Word – and then hang on.
Which of the descriptions of God’s Word found in the first paragraph fires your imagination most? Have you ever wondered why Christians don’t spend more time studying God’s Word? What are the obstacles in your own life that have prevented you from spending time in Scripture? Be creative: What are three ways you can increase your intake of God’s Word this week? Share your ideas with a friend and then get busy putting your ideas into practice.
Grace and Truth,
Ezra 7:6 – this Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him.
Ezra 7:9-10 – He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.  For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
Ezra, A Model Disciple
You may not know much about Ezra, though you’ve probably heard of him. He has a book in the Old Testament named after him. He exemplifies much of what I believe my own purpose is as a pastor. More important than that, however, he is a model for all Christians.
Ezra was a descendent of Moses’ brother, Aaron, the chief priest. Ezra was a teacher, we’re told, who was well versed in the Law of Moses (Ezra 7:6). The end of verse 9 tells us the hand of God was on Ezra. Why? Because, according to verse 10, Ezra “devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord as well as to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.”
In other words, Ezra passionately studied God’s Word, lived God’s Word, and taught God’s Word to others.
Study, Live, Teach
Every Christian must first study God’s Word. This is obvious. This is where the pump is primed and fresh water is poured into the soul. This is where the renewing of the mind takes place so that it will become fertile ground for transformation later.
This leads to the next point – living God’s Word. If you don’t believe the teachings of God’s Word, nor trust in the God of those teachings and practice them each day, then one might ask why you are studying Scripture in the first place. The Word of God makes us wise for salvation, teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, trains us in righteousness so that we may become thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17). We don’t study it to win Bible trivia contests or to impress our congregations. We study it so we may become more and more like Christ.
But Ezra did more than study it and live it – he taught it to others. He passed along his knowledge to those entrusted to his care. He taught them about their covenant God, how they could rightly relate to that God, and how they should live in light of that covenantal relationship. And it’s the fact that he faithfully studied and lived it that brought credibility and integrity to his teaching. You see, the goal of any disciple of Jesus Christ is to reproduce the life of Christ in the lives of others. This is accomplished through learning what it means to be a disciple of Christ, faithfully living that calling out each day, and then passing it along to others. It’s sometimes called, “pouring your life into another person.” Jesus put it this way in the gospel of John,
I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. (John 12:24)
For the Sake of Others
In a sense, we die to ourselves as we diligently study God’s Word, conform ourselves to its standards, trust in its promises, and then pass it along to others, even at personal cost. But any sacrifice offered is more than worth it because, as Jesus put it, it produces many seeds.
How do we pass along God’s Word to others? This can be done in a variety of ways. It can be shared with others from the pulpit, in a classroom, in a hospital room, in a counseling session, over lunch with a friend, around the family table at breakfast or dinner, or written correspondence. The list could go on and on.
Finally, I love how Ezra did all of this. The text says he devoted himself to it. He gave his life to it. He was committed to God’s Word in all of its life-transforming fullness. And because he was so devoted, we learn that God’s hand was on him. God has appointed his Word as a primary means of grace (as it works with his Spirit) whereby we are enabled to intimately know God and his Son Jesus Christ, know about the character, attributes, and works of God, learn how to love and serve God and others, discover how to become more Christlike in our daily lives, as well as how to spend eternity with him.
God’s Word: Know It – Live It – Teach It to Others. Not a bad purpose statement for all of us. I want to be more like Ezra. How about you?
Which of the three, studying Scripture, practicing it, or teaching it to others, do you find easiest for you? Which is the most difficult? Why do you think that is? What are three ways you can grow in your weakest area? What are three ways you can help a fellow Christian grow in their weakest area? Get started today.
Grace and Truth,
2 Samuel 15:21 - But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
Who was Ittai? He was a foreigner. He was an exile. He had barely even been with David. And so David, right before the going got tough, told Ittai to leave while he could; this wasn’t his fight. David even sent Ittai and his countrymen off with a blessing.
But Ittai’s loyalty ran deep. We don’t know why, and I’m not sure it even matters. Ittai responded to David with these words,
“As surely as the Lord lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.”
David clearly recognized and appreciated this loyalty and so honored Ittai by permitting Ittai, including his men and their families, to stay on.
This kind of loyalty seems rare today. Whenever I see such displays in a movie or book, they virtually jump off the screen or page at me, demanding to be noticed and honored.
Loyalty to Christ
I wonder how many followers of Christ would follow their Lord wherever he may go and to whatever end. What makes this so difficult is our Lord goes everywhere. He goes into our families, homes, workplaces, thought-lives, churches, TV rooms, cars, grocery-store checkout lines, cultural battles, conversations, and on and on and on. Not only does he go to those places but he claims Lordship over them. And his claim is not an empty one. He has been given authority in those places. Ephesians 1:22 says,
“And God placed all things under [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church…”
Christ is the King over all things, the Lord over every sphere of life. That’s simply a fact about reality. And yet there is a sense in which, in this present age, he is still seeking to extend his Kingdom into every sphere of life. It’s part of the “already and not yet” nature of his Kingdom. What is so astonishing is that he calls those of us who are his followers to be the very ones who extend his Kingdom. Through us! Truly amazing!
You Will Have to Die
The question is, will we be loyal and faithful to our Lord as Ittai was to King David? Will we follow our Lord to whatever end? We don’t have to guess as to whether or not there will be death. There will be. That’s an up-front promise by our Lord himself.
First and foremost there will be death to self. For there to be fruit a seed must die. For Christ’s followers to bear fruit for our King, we must die - to ourselves, our sin, agendas, self-centeredness, egos, idols, and so forth. Make no mistake about it, this is death and it can be quite painful.
And yet there is also the promise of life - real life, everlasting life, fullness of life. And this promised life is just as guaranteed as our death. For just as we die with Christ so too are we raised with him, to be and become as he now is.
The beauty of all that has been said is found in the truth that our King has already been where he calls us to go. Furthermore, he has promised to travel with us to encourage, strengthen, and guide us along the way, the narrow way. That’s a comforting thought indeed.
Will you be loyal to your Lord and King? Will you follow him to whatever end?
What’s your favorite example of loyalty from the movies or literature? Why is that your favorite example? What makes loyalty to Christ so hard in our world? What are three ways you can grow in your loyalty to Christ? What would such loyalty look like in your everyday life? Share your answers to these questions with a friend.
Grace and Truth,
Joshua 24:14-15 - “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.  But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
James 4:4 - You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
Choices, Choices, Choices
The road of life is filled with many choices:
Today’s Scripture highlights the most important choices we must make. And, as the rock group, Rush, observed, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”
In the preceding verses of Joshua 24, Joshua took the children of Israel on an historical reconnaissance in order to remind them of who God is and what God had done for them in the past. Implicit in this was the covenant God made with Israel and how they too could look to the future fulfillments of God’s promises… IF.
When God made a covenant with Israel, it included blessings and curses. Obedience, faithfulness, and loyalty would be rewarded with divine blessing beyond their wildest imaginations. Disobedience, unfaithfulness, and treason, on the other hand, would result in God’s curses. It seems like a no-brainer as to which should be preferred.
And so, after laying out the history of God’s love for his people, Joshua presented the people with a choice. He told them to serve God only and to throw away the idols of their past. Whom would they serve – the gods of their ancestors or the living God? Joshua answered as the covenant head of his home by declaring publicly, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
Gods of this Age or God of the Ages?
It is interesting, and quite telling, to see how this theme of choosing between the Living God and the gods of the age – between covenant-faithfulness and spiritual adultery – is repeated over and over again in God’s Word. The fact is, we will all bow before something or someone, simply by the living of our lives. Who or what will be that object of worship is the choice ever before us.
James lays the choice before us with crystal clarity. He says friendship with the world is hatred toward God. What exactly does he mean here? He’s not talking about loving people and ministering to them. Instead, he has in mind what Paul meant in Romans 12:2 – love for and conformity to the sinful, fallen, and disobedient patterns of this world, the kingdom or domain of darkness, as Paul puts in Colossians 1:13.
James follows by saying, “anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James is essentially putting before God’s covenant people in the New Testament the same choice Joshua put before God’s covenant people in the Old Testament: Who will they bow their knees to: the gods beyond the River, the gods of the Amorites, the state, secular worldviews, modern American materialism, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy hedonism, the entertainment industry, sports, status, or even good things like work and family?
James calls people who bow to any of these things, “adulterous.” They have left their first love to cozy up to the gods of the Amorites and Egyptians.
People cry out for their free will, rights, and autonomy. God gives them that option, but not with impunity. There are consequences to foolish choices. People may choose Baal, Molech, Ra or the gods of this age if they so choose. They can exercise their moral choice to their heart’s delight. They can revel in their “free will.” But the wrath of God will be leveled against all unrighteousness and ungodliness.
But There’s Grace
Because of God’s grace, however, we learn God continually calls his children back to covenant faithfulness. He lovingly commands us to throw away the gods of our past and to love, obey, worship, and serve him instead. Each and every day that we are granted another day to live, we are given an opportunity for repentance and covenant-faithfulness.
So choose this day whom you and your household will serve. There’s only one right answer.
No Christian sets out to be idolatrous. How, then, do you think idolatry among God’s people happens? What are the “gods of this age” that compete for your allegiance the most? What are some ways you have found helpful in remaining faithful to the God of the ages? What counsel would you give a Christian brother or sister to help them turn from their idol and toward our Lord?
Grace and Truth,
Among the characteristics we could cite, our forbearers in the faith had at least two qualities about them that enabled them to stand against great odds. These loved ones of the covenant had faith and courage.
There’s a lack in our day of both. More often than I care to think about, doubt and fear have won the day and left God’s saints in a puddle of impotence and despair. I know this has been true of my own life. But this should never be the case for God’s people. Scripture offers us some encouraging examples of those who trusted God and were able to face seemingly insurmountable odds.
Example 1: Caleb
When Moses sent an expedition to Canaan to explore what awaited God’s children in the land of promise, the report confirmed all God had promised – it was lush and flowed with milk and honey, as advertised. But there was a catch. There was also a huge obstacle before them. In the land there were “giants” who made the Israelites seem like hobbits in a land of orcs. The report from the expedition team was, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).
But this wasn’t a unanimous report. For in Numbers 13:30 we read,
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”
Caleb had faith in God and his covenant promises, and therefore, could be as courageous as Frodo and Sam in Mordor.
Example 2: David
David faced similar circumstances later on in redemptive history, with a similar response. As the Israelites shook in their sandals before the great Goliath and the Philistine horde, the young shepherd boy looked on in bewilderment. In what seemed like arrogance at worst and naiveté at best, this “king-to-be” couldn’t understand why his people had not already taken the uncircumcised behemoth apart – especially in light of Goliath’s jeering and insolence before the living God. David queried,
“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Samuel 17:26)
And so, like Caleb before him, David volunteered to take Goliath on. So what if he seemed like a grasshopper before this giant of a man, all nine feet of him. David drew courage from his faith in the One who had never failed him before.
Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36-37)
The Foundation for Faith and Courage
With faith and courage David faced the giant, and the rest, as we say, is history. What was the foundation for such faith and courage in the lives of Caleb and David? We are told in Jeremiah 1:8 and 19.
Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.
Caleb and David knew in their day what God told Jeremiah in his. That is, God’s people will be opposed. That’s a given. We will seem like grasshoppers in comparison. The “apparent” odds will be overwhelmingly against us. But God calls the weak, poor, small, seemingly insignificant hobbits of this world to serve as his subjects, his knights, to advance his Kingdom, even in the face of the enemy (perhaps especially so).
Where Are Your Giants?
What are the obstacles you are facing? Is anything greater than the covenant-making, covenant-keeping Lord of Glory? It is this very God who promised never to forsake us. That alone is grounds for faith and courage in the midst of insurmountable odds.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. (1 Cor. 16:13)
Who (or what) are the giants in your life? What is it about them that causes you to fear and turn the other way? What is a strategy you could start using today to help you face your giants with faith and courage? Of course, you should never travel alone. Who are two or three people you could ask to pray for you, offer you wisdom, and hold you accountable? Ask them to join you today.
Grace and Truth,
Exodus 7:8-13 – The Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”  So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake.  Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts:  Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.  Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
Exodus 7:20-22 – Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded. He raised his staff in the presence of Pharaoh and his officials and struck the water of the Nile, and all the water was changed into blood.  The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt.  But the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts, and Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.
Acts 16:16-18 – Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling.  This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.”  She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.
I have never quite understood how the magicians of Egypt could perform the same miracles as Moses and Aaron, at least a few of them. Well, we know that they weren’t exactly the same miracles, but they fooled enough of the people enough of the time to be considered the same.
Let me back up.
Moses and Aaron stood before Pharaoh and his court. Just after Aaron threw his staff to the ground, it became a snake. That would have impressed me. But it didn’t seem to impress Pharaoh. What did he do? He summoned his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians to do the same thing. And they did, sort of. Aaron’s snake ate all of their snakes. God’s little way of reminding folks who’s sovereign and who’s not.
Then there was the scene at the Nile River. It was there Moses and Aaron turned the Nile’s water into blood. That would get my attention. Not Pharaoh. He rounded up his FX artists again and, just like before, had them do the same thing as Moses and Aaron.
In the New Testament Too
This isn’t confined to just the Old Testament. In the New Testament we learn of a slave girl, “who had a spirit by which she predicted the future.” And like so many of the demons who recognized who Jesus really was, this slave girl’s “spirit” understood that Paul and company were “servants of the Most High God,” and were telling the people “the way to be saved.”
In one sense it was good that she (or rather, the spirit in her) recognized who Paul and his companions were. But at the end of the day, it was still a demonic spirit and, by definition, up to no good. That’s why Paul cast out the spirit from the girl in the name of Jesus Christ.
Our Need to Discern
Not all that glitters is gold. Not all miracles are of God. Not all spirituality is Christian spirituality. Not all visions are from God. We make a grave error indeed when we assume, undiscerningly, that any and every sign and wonder is automatically from God. Too much in God’s Word tells us otherwise.
That’s why humility is key here. We must have a teachable spirit. We need to obey God and his Word. Scripture alone must be our final, ultimate, and sufficient authority, not our experience and feelings. The Apostle John wrote in 1 John 4:1,
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
That is wise counsel. And it’s the only sure way we’ll stand firm to the end.
Have you ever experienced someone claiming to have a “word from God” that did not seem to be Scriptural? What are the dangers in accepting such a claim without discernment? How can you “test the spirits to see whether they are from God?” Do you have a strong enough foundation in your knowledge of Scripture to spot false spirits? If not, begin meeting with a couple of people regularly to study and pray over God’s Word together, seeking encouragement, correction, and training from the Lord.
Grace and Truth,
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Colossians 2:6-7 - So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
Off to a Great Start
We start off so well. With great gratitude and enthusiasm we bow before the throne of our King. Upon placing our trust in Christ alone – “receiving” him – we take on the world in his name.
But motivation and inspiration can wane. That which does not become habit and done out of joyful and obedient self-discipline will not last for the long haul. That is why church history is littered with travelers who fell by the wayside on the narrow road to the celestial city. Jesus taught that the seed of God’s Word sometimes falls on shallow soil and does not take the necessary root it needs to live and grow (Matthew 13:1-23).
Continue In Him
Thus, Paul exhorts us to “continue to live in him.” This is much more than simple encouragement to attend church and have your quiet time, both of which are good. He is indeed saying followers of Christ are to persevere in such means of grace. But even more than that, Paul is declaring that our very power source is the Lord himself. He is our power, foundation, anchor, and compass - our all in all. The Lord Jesus Christ must not be sprinkled on our lives to simply add a little flavor to an already okay meal. Instead, he is to be our life. To claim we are in Christ means we died with him in his crucifixion and are raised with him in his resurrection. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).
Root, Shoot, and Fruit
I love the language Paul uses to undergird his thesis. He adds that we are to be “rooted and built up in him.” In John 15:1-8, we discover Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, he tells us, we can do nothing. If we would bear fruit, we must remain connected to Christ. He must be our root, for it is only then he will bear fruit in and through us. If we as branches ever become detached from our vine, we become useless.
Our Chief Cornerstone
Changing our imagery, Jesus is our chief cornerstone and we are to be built up in him. He is our only sure foundation. All else is shifting sand. If we are not built up in him, we will crumble during the storms of life (Matthew 7:24-27).
What does it mean to be “built up” in Christ? Paul helps us here. He says it means to be strengthened in the faith we were taught. When those in the early church first came to faith in Christ, they sat at the feet of the Apostles and learned from them (Acts 2:42). Today we have their authoritative teaching in Holy Scripture. We are built up and strengthened in Christ when we meet him in his Word and listen to his instruction. More than that, we must obey what we hear (Matthew 7:24-27).
And so be encouraged. You have the greatest resource at God’s disposal to enable you to bear much, good, and lasting fruit in your life, Christ Jesus our Lord and the power of his Spirit. Without him you cannot do anything. With him, all things are possible.
I have provided Scripture references throughout this devotion. Look up these texts and meditate upon them as you reflect on the following questions. What is the hardest part for you when it comes to persevering with Christ? Does it encourage you to know God has provided his greatest resource to help you live your life well? What are three ways you can deepen your roots in Christ? Share your answers with a friend and start “deepening your roots” today.
Grace and Truth,
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